SKLZ talks their approach to the unique, and rapidly growing, world of skills training, and how they work with the beginner/youth athlete, the competitive athlete and the “post-playing” consumer.
What is SKLZ?
Wiseman: SKLZ is a sports training and sports performance company. We focus on the distribution of product and content to help athletes of all ages improve in their sport and/or just to become more fit, healthier people.
When was SKLZ founded?
Wiseman: We’ve been in business since 2002. An external inventor partnered with a local entrepreneur in San Diego, and they went to market with the Hit-A-Way, our first product, which was a baseball training aid for hitting. Since then, we have expanded to golf, soccer, football, basketball and sport performance categories.
Can you elaborate more on how exactly SKLZ started?
Wiseman: The company, in the first 8 or 9 years, was very much inventor-led, in terms of product concepting. So, there’s a strong DNA within our company with the inventor community, and to this day, we continue to receive requests daily from the outside. We have since complimented that with our in-house product development, and have become broadly distributed over the years. While we are predominately a US brand, in the last 5 years, we started to work internationally, and now our product and content is distributed around the world.
Are a lot of your product designs fueled by consumer ideas/suggestions?
Wiseman: Well, not direct consumer suggestions, but through focus groups and market travel, we study training needs and look to translate those needs into product and content. Today, we are 100% consumer-led in our product creation — Whether they are athletes, coaches, parents or inventors.
Do you also produce the products, or are you mainly a distribution channel?
Wiseman: We have in-house design, development and sourcing, and we sell and distribute product around the world. We do not own our manufacturing, so we use contract manufacturing and partner with local distributors to represent the brand and our selling efforts outside of the US.
Where is SKLZ headquartered?
Wiseman: We are based in Carlsbad, California. We have been based in San Diego the entire life of the company, and we certainly do not want to leave.
We have good weather and it’s a great source of talent. San Diego, from a sports standpoint, is very much based in the golf, outdoor and surf industries, and we do find a lot of talent in the metro San Diego and L.A. area.
Do you have retail stores, or do you operate purely online?
Wiseman: We do not have our own vertical, brick-and-mortar store. SKLZ.com is our best consumer experience with the broadest assortment of product and content, but we also distribute through brick-and-mortar channels. Sporting Goods, in the US, is our largest segment of distribution. We have been in and out of the Mass and Club channels and we work well with sports specific stores in baseball, soccer, and golf, where they’re really catering to the avid athlete in that sport. Segmenting and differentiating our assortments across multiple distribution points is a capability we are heavily investing in.
Outside of the US, that’s where we do have some branded retail, or branded shop-in-shops. For instance, in Asia, there is a lot of vertical distribution — where our distributor partners may open a multi-branded, two or three branded store, and SKLZ is a prominent brand within that store. But, we can also be found online with pure plays like Amazon, as well as the marketplaces like EBay, Jet.com and Walmart.com.
Do you think that storefront strategy in Southeast Asia will ever transfer to the US?
Wiseman: We’re watching that. We’re obviously going where the consumer is going. We’re not forcing the consumer to shop where we want them to shop. We’re following the consumers from a shopping standpoint, and we’re building assortments that are representative for the positioning of that retailer. We are making big bets in terms of our growth in the digital marketplace, both with SKLZ.com and pure play, and we’re also engaging in efforts to sell directly to partners and institutions, like gyms and training facilities, as well as creating partnerships with companies who are in the training or sports-specific environment, like a Fit4Mom or BeaverFit.
We have aspirations to continue to grow across all of our channels of distribution, but the digital marketplace is clearly where the majority of consumers are. For example, they may come to SKLZ.com and do some product search, get to know some products and content, and then they may go transact at Amazon, or they may go buy brick-and-mortar. So, we’re following the consumers through their journey and making sure the right assortments are in the right location.
What’s your most popular product or category?
Wiseman: We serve athletes across multiple sports and experience levels. Youth athletes are learning the mechanics of a sport, how to swing a bat and make contact, how to receive or pass a soccer ball. This lasts from a younger age through their high school and college years. This is our Sport Training segment. We also attempt to improve an athlete’s performance through human performance, which is speed, quickness, strength and agility.
So, we have a multi-level attack, in that if you think of soccer or baseball, which are our 2 biggest sport-specific categories, we provide product and content for Sport Training and underpinning each sport category is our Sports Performance category.
If we separate everything out, our Sports Performance category is our largest, because that plays across all sports. In terms of Sports Training, baseball has been our DNA and the genesis of this company, and continues to be our largest; although soccer is our fastest growing sport category.
We also have, what we call our “Lifestyle” category which is sideline product or fan product. Our two biggest icons in Lifestyle are the SportBrella, which was designed and developed to provide fans at athletic events shelter, shade, wind protection and rain protection. And second, is our Pro-Mini Hoop franchise, which was the first authentic indoor basketball hoop system. Pro-Mini Hoop has become a great business for us, and a brand synonymous with indoor basketball, where we offer that authentic look and feel of an NBA backboard system. So, those two franchises are what we refer to as our “lifestyle category.”
Do you guys sponsor any athletes or organizations?
Wiseman: We have in the past, and we’re rethinking our demand creation model going forward. The company has had periods where we have been heavily invested in iconic athletes — Reggie Jackson was one of the original endorsers for the brand, with the Hit-A-Way. We’ve had Maria Sharapova, and most recently, Alex Morgan in soccer, Tony Finau in golf and Evan Longoria in baseball. It’s interesting — we are a training brand, not a game day brand. We have spent a lot of time thinking through how we create demand, and what we’re finding is that youth athletes, as well as the early teen athletes, from a training standpoint, are more influenced by their peer group than by their idols. So, we’re really trying to get our message out to our athletes through peers and influencers via social media.
Who is your target audience?
Wiseman: Our positioning is to Make Athletes Better for Life. When we stepped back to build our three-year plan last year, we said we have a strong position with the youth athlete, because they are learning and refining the mechanics of the sport. Then we saw that from around age 14 through college, even professional-aged athletes, training time is increasing for speed, quickness, strength and agility. So, our products are also catering to that consumer group. Finally, our 3rd key demographic is what we call the “post-playing consumer,” which are those individuals that just want to remain fit, healthy and pain-free. That’s why we’ve built our warm-up and recovery product lines to help compliment and add massage or warm-up before and after sport, in addition to our sport performance products.
We truly serve athletes for life, but we have a very narrow focus in those 3 areas: Youth athletes learning the mechanics of the sport, elite athletes building their own strength, speed, quickness and agility, and the post-playing athlete that’s really about health and wellness.
How would you say the industry has changed since SKLZ started?
Wiseman: Wow, a lot. The prototype of the first Hit-A-Way was a surfboard leash with a baseball at the end of it — that was the genesis of the idea. The hitter would hit it and wrap around the pole or tree, unwind, and come back and be hit again. Now you think about the training aids in the marketplace, from analog devices to smart devices with sensor technology embedded in products, connected in the cloud to apps, giving measurements and feedback to athletes. The product has changed drastically.
From a marketplace standpoint, it has been the one of the most dynamic areas of change. And that’s not just for SKLZ, that’s really for anybody in the industry. We’re paying attention to that, and we like to say we’re shaping the marketplace, knowing who our consumer is and knowing who shops in our various distribution points. That’s the information needed to help us build assortments that make the most sense. What you’ll find from SKLZ in Account A will have some crossover to what you may find at Account B, but there are also things that are unique to those accounts as well. Segmenting and differentiating the marketplace is key to driving growth in all channels.
And operationally, with the growth of direct business and digital business, small order fulfillment capability is a huge change for us. Direct ship and drop ship consumer orders has become more and more something that we need to have the capability to do. So, moving distribution and fulfillment capabilities from shipping pallets of product from our warehouse to an account’s warehouse has given way to thousands of transactions a day of one or two pieces. Building our supply chain capabilities to serve the consumer need and to compliment how we’re trying to shape and grow the marketplace has been a huge change for us.
Does SKLZ have any new products in the works that will be coming out soon?
Wiseman: We do and we are excited, but I can’t really preview much of that now. We know we have iconic product that we have to keep fresh and update to stay ahead of the competition, but we also need new innovation. Most recently, our SKLZ Fielding Trainer launched, which is a great three-positioned pitch back that allows pitchers, infielders, and even outfielders, to continue to work on their skills. That’s followed off of what has been a very successful launch of the SKLZ Soccer Trainer and SKLZ Goalshot last year.
In Sport Performance, we launched some great massage and recovery products, with the Travel Massage Bar, which is great for people that are on the road, and/or athletes that are just looking for a quick warm-up or warm-down at their events. My son is a track-and-field athlete and he doesn’t go anywhere now without his travel massage bar.
We also partner with EXOS, which is the leading human performance training company based in Arizona, and the insights we get from them around their pillars of business allow us to take those insights and put them into new products. The SKLZ Acceleration Trainer is a great example of our collaboration and recently enabled more than 20 NFL combine athletes who trained in the EXOS Carlsbad Institute to set 40 yd speed PR’s.
Are there plans to branch into a new sport category?
Wiseman: Right now, we are on task to continue to grow from within. We have identified soccer, baseball/softball, golf and sport performance as our four growth-driving categories. We still have a lot of room to grow within that. Football and Basketball are growth opportunities for us. We will continue to grow across the six sport categories before we start thinking about others. We offer nets and other products that can cut across sports and it’s more just about the positioning of those products within that sport. And then of course our 7th category, the “lifestyle category,” we are very bullish on.
Where do you see SKLZ is the next 5 years?
Wiseman: In the next 5 years, we’ve set our sights to be the leading authentic global sport training company in the world. We intend to Make Athletes Better for Life through innovative product and content. We believe we can double our business over the next 5 years, from a revenue standpoint. And we believe that we have huge opportunities to continue to grow the brand and the business globally. New doors, new items, new markets and new countries is a big part of our development. We are very optimistic and we know that sports participation should remain steady. So, we continue to believe in sport and wellness, and as long as we stay consumer-focused, and build great products and great experiences, we can continue to grow.